Q & A with Richard Branson
|By Jonathan Noble
||Friday, March 19th 2010, 12:07 GMT
Twelve months ago, Richard Branson flew out to Melbourne knowing little about Formula 1 other than he was about to become a sponsor for the Brawn GP team.
A year on, having seen his Virgin logos adorn the side of the championship-winning outfit, he is now a team owner and certainly much wiser about the state of grand prix racing.
During a visit to Bahrain last weekend, Branson talked to the media about the progress of his Virgin Racing team, his hopes for the next few years and why he still thinks Ferrari was wrong to criticise the new teams. AUTOSPORT heard what he had to say.
Q. You obviously experienced very different feelings at the first race 12 months ago when you came in with Brawn GP and won the first race. Was there a different feeling in Bahrain seeing your own car on track?
Richard Branson: Yes. It is obviously different, but just as exciting. The challenge that the team set itself was to be number one of the new teams, with a budget that is almost half of the other new teams and a fraction of the price of the big teams. In qualifying, they pulled that off. Considering they have had a few months to get this far, they have done tremendously well. Now they are a proper racing team, which is tremendously exciting.
Q. Is Virgin Racing where you want it to be at this stage?
RB: Yes. I think it is a very, very respectable start. Bahrain was a long track and they were not far off teams that have been around for years. We are talking about 1.5 seconds on a big long track - so I think it is a tremendous start. I am very proud of everybody, and they have worked enormously hard. It is tremendous.
Q. Are you a patient man, because this will be a slow burning project in terms of progress?
RB: Yes. The baby was born in Bahrain, and babies have to develop into children and then adults. We hope it is going to be a quicker process than that. What has been shown is that you can design a car on a fraction of the price that everyone else is paying and have a very respectable start.
Q. There is a big contrast to last year though, isn't there?
RB: We went into this with our eyes completely open. To me it is far more exciting building a team from scratch, than sponsoring a team that had been around for many years. We want to start eating our way up the group. Look at Red Bull Racing, and how they got themselves ahead of Ferrari. Hopefully one day Virgin can overtake Red Bull, but you have got to start somewhere.
Q. You mentioned Red Bull Racing as a benchmark, but this year is their sixth. Doesn't that show how long the process can be?
RB: It was a five or six year process, but if the rules are stuck to, and everybody comes within the £40 million budget that we are working to this year, then in a couple of years time we will know how to run a team with that money, while other teams will have to come down to that level. So then things will start equalling out. Yes, they will have quite a few more years under their belt but we have quite a few guys here with a lot of experience. So, we are hoping for three to five years, rather than five years. But, who is to know? We have to aim for it.
Q. How many races do you plan to attend this year?
RB: I think similar to last year, which was four or five races.
Q. Do you have much say in what is happening at the team? Do you participate much?
RB: I am definitely kept well clear of the engineering and the driving!
Q. In the build-up to the season, there were lots of criticisms aimed at the new teams - that they shouldn't be here and would be limping into the first race. After what we saw on track in Bahrain, do you think those critics have been silenced?
RB: Yes. When Enzo Ferrari started Ferrari, he had to battle to get into the racing - he spent two years trying to get his foot in the door. He struggled like any new boy on the block. So everybody has to start somewhere. I don't think there is any new team that has come in and won on their debut - remember Brawn was Honda with a couple of hundred million dollars! I think Ferrari was mistaken in being as critical as they were.
Q. You seem much more knowledgeable about F1 that you did a year ago?
RB: I was certainly a new boy on the block. The only thing I knew about it was that four days before [Australia 2009] I knew we were going to be involved in F1!